A club record, a 100-game milestone, a projected comeback and homecomings are all on offer when the Vodafone Warriors play their second NRL home game in consecutive seasons at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday, March 29 (5.05pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).
They’ll face Wests Tigers – making their first NRL appearance in Wellington – on a day also featuring exciting soon-to-be-revealed fan engagement initiatives driven by the club’s principal sponsor Vodafone.
The match is set to coincide with a club record 92nd appearance as Vodafone Warriors captain for Simon Mannering. Just into his fifth campaign as captain and his 10th season in the NRL, the 27-year-old equals Steve Price’s 2005-09 record of 91 games as captain when he leads the side against North Queensland at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville this Saturday night.
It leaves him in line to go ahead of his former skipper in the city where he was briefly a resident before being signed by the Vodafone Warriors.
The Capital Clash II will also lift him within eight appearances of becoming only the second player after Stacey Jones (261 games) to represent the club in 200 NRL matches.
Eyeing his 100th NRL game in the same game is former Queensland State of Origin representative Dane Nielsen, who started his career with the Sharks – just one first-grade game – before linking with Melbourne and then joining the Vodafone Warriors last season.
While Mannering and Nielsen are counting down to milestones, seasoned utility Thomas Leuluai has eyes only for his comeback in Wellington. The 28-year-old Kiwi international played every minute of the Vodafone Warriors’ 24 games last season only to be sidelined by a groin injury at the Rugby League World Cup in England and France.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott confirmed this week that Leuluai was set to come into the frame for Westpac Stadium, where he was one of the Vodafone Warriors’ try scorers in last year’s loss to Canterbury-Bankstown.
The trip to Wellington has a homecoming flavour for as many as five players in the Vodafone Warriors’ NRL, New South Wales Cup and NYC squads.
The most readily identifiable local is front rower Ben Matulino, still only 25 but already looking at his 135th NRL match on Saturday night.
Born in Lower Hutt and educated at St Bernard’s College – where he played First XV rugby union – the Te Aroha Eels junior has also played 19 Tests for the Kiwis.
While Napier-born Mannering calls Nelson home, his time in Wellington helped to develop him as a rugby league player after he’d predominantly played rugby union at Nelson College. He played for the Wellington Orcas in the old Bartercard Cup competition and also had links at club level with the Te Aroha Eels and the University Hunters.
Charlie Gubb, a Wellington College product, also played for the University Hunters and was elated when they beat the Randwick Kingfishers to win the Wellington premiership title for the first time. A New South Wales Cup regular last year, he made his one and only NRL appearance against South Sydney in Perth in July.
Gubb scored a try for the Vulcans in last year’s NSW Cup curtain-raiser against the Wyong Roos at Westpac Stadium and is in line to run out onto the stadium in the same grade on March 29 but wearing a Vodafone Warriors jersey this time.
Also in the Vodafone Warriors’ NSW Cup side this season is wing Jarred Wilson.
Born in Tokoroa, he attended St Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton where he played rugby union but moved to Lower Hutt when he was aged 17 to play rugby league with the Te Aroha Eels.
He was later picked up by the Penrith Panthers where he played for the club’s NYC side in 2012 and 2013 but missed last year’s grand final against the Vodafone Junior Warriors through injury. His assistant coach at the Panthers last year was Rohan Smith, now coaching the Vodafone Warriors’ NSW Cup side.
Wilson played in the Vodafone Warriors’ trials against Gold Coast and Wigan last month and scored two tries in each of the club’s first two NSW Cup games against Wentworthville and Illawarra.
Also set for a hometown appearance at Westpac Stadium on March 29 is Kurt Robinson, the Lower Hutt-born Petone Panthers junior. Educated at Lower Hutt High School, Robinson makes his third straight appearance this season as hooker for the Vodafone Junior Warriors when they meet North Queensland in Townsville this Saturday night.
Saturday week’s match will be the seventh the Vodafone Warriors have played at Westpac Stadium.
The first five games were all away matches for them, four against the Bulldogs in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 and one against Canberra in 2003.
Last year’s return to Wellington for the Capital Clash was the first home game the Vodafone Warriors had taken out of Auckland and drew a crowd of 30,112, a record for a rugby league match in Wellington.
VODAFONE WARRIORS IN THE CAPITAL
WESTPAC STADIUM, WELLINGTON
Saturday, March 29
12.30pm Gates open
12.40pm NYC | Vodafone Junior Warriors v Wests Tigers
2.40pm New South Wales Cup | Vodafone Warriors v Wests Tigers
5.05pm NRL | Vodafone Warriors v Wests Tigers